Of all the things I feared about parenting, I never expected my greatest fear would be my kids’ assuming they’re Christians.
My wife and I are first-generation Christians. For us, there are no memories of Sunday school crafts, flannel graphs, and fishy crackers. No “Jesus Loves Me” or “Father Abraham” songs floating up at random moments. No Bible drills, no missions trip T-shirts, and no regular warnings about the dangers of premarital sex. I was so unexposed to the Christian subculture that I hadn’t even heard a Steven Curtis Chapman song in its entirety until 2015. I say all this to make it clear: for us, the Christian life is a blank slate. We have no idea what we’re doing in general, but especially what we’re doing as parents raising children in the hope that they will someday love, honor, and serve Jesus.
A friend of mine’s experience is entirely the opposite of mine. He isn’t the first Christian in his family. He is a pastor’s kid whose father was also the son of a minister. He knows how to check off all the boxes. He knows all the answers he should give when answering Bible questions. He didn’t just attend but led a youth ministry. The expectations on him as a member of a family with a heritage of following Christ were, and continue to be, very different from my own. Considering his family’s legacy, some people would identify him as a fourth- or fifth-generation believer.
But in talking with him, and with other friends, I’ve come to realize that this isn’t right. It’s not how the Christian faith works, and it never has been. God doesn’t appear to see any of us as second-, third-, or thirtieth-generation believers. Although there are many families—and I pray mine will be one of them—that have a long line of faithful believers among them, not a single one of them inherited the Christian faith. Every single believer in these long lines was saved the same way: by grace alone through faith alone (Eph. 2:8). Whether they can pinpoint the exact moment they believed or if believing was as natural as breathing, all believed, and through that belief alone they were credited with the righteousness of Christ (Rom. 4:3). No matter how many believers have preceded us, every Christian is a first-generation Christian.
No doubt many of you reading this are thinking: “Well, yeah. After all, the doctrine of justification by faith is at the heart of the Christian faith. It is what makes Christians Christian.” But do we approach others, especially our own children, as though they need to be justified by faith, too, no matter how many generations of believers may have preceded them? And, most importantly, what happens when we do approach them in such a way?